By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor, IndyCar Contributor
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Josef Newgarden will have the best view in the house when Sunday’s running of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama gets the green flag after laying down the fastest lap in qualifying to take the pole.
Rocketing around the 17-turn, 2.38-mile road course, Newgarden’s lap of 1 minute, 07:441 seconds (122.773 mph), was quick enough to put him at the top of the board in the Fast Six. His Team Penske teammate, Will Power, will start alongside on the front row.
Newgarden will be going for his third win at Barber Motorsports Park after winning in 2015 and 2017.
“Tim (Cindric, race strategist) was telling me when I came in what the lap time was,” said Newgarden. “I didn’t know if that was going to be enough. It was a good lap. Actually, I like this set of tires a little bit better than the others. You almost have a favorite sometimes with the Firestones, but they held up well. I think he had a slight advantage because he didn’t have to do a hot lap on his, but I knew our car was quick. After I saw the time we did on this set of tires I knew we had a shot at it.
“Really proud of everybody, Hitachi being on the car with us, it’s good to get them a first pole and just everyone else. Team Chevy has done a really good job. They have really given us the good power this weekend, good drivability. We are going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we will have, but it’s going to get mixed up with the rain. So, I think the first part of this weekend is done. We just need to focus on tomorrow now and see how we are going to get through the weather.”
Following the two top starters, the Hondas of Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, and Scott Dixon were the remaining drivers to fill out the top-six.
Alexander Rossi, who leads the points heading into Barber, will roll off eighth when the 90-lap race gets underway on Sunday afternoon. Rossi’s teammate Zach Veach put in a herculean effort of his own as he qualified 11th but did so while battling illness throughout the day.
The only drama of qualifying came in the first of the three rounds, with the second of the two groups to hit the track. After Group 1 went off without a hitch, a spin by Tony Kanaan in the closing minutes of Group 2 brought out the red flag as the clock ticked down to zero, not allowing any of the drivers outside of the cut line to try and hit the track for another lap.
As Kanaan was getting up to speed off of pit road, he lost control of his AJ Foyt Racing machine, spinning and backing into the tire barrier in Turn 1, causing enough damage to his car that he wasn’t able to continue on under his own power, relegating him to a last place start. Following an animated conversation with his team on pit road, a seemingly agitated Kanaan sped off back to the garage.
“Difficult weekend,” said Kanaan. “We’ve been trying a bunch of different things, but it’s not working. And obviously it didn’t help my mistake in qualifying. We’re struggling here, but we have a whole night to think about it and hopefully we’ll come back stronger in the race and see what we can do.”
HONDA INDY GRAND PRIX OF ALABAMA: Unofficial qualifying results